Code.org strives to increase computer programming education
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
Despite having never taken a computer science class in high school, junior Ryan O’Dowd is the president and co-founder of the Computer Animation and Game Design club at the university. O’Dowd, a computer science major, became interested in animation in high school, but had no formal education on the topic when he graduated.
“A year of classes would have been beneficial because it was hard to get acclimated when I first started to code freshman year,” O’Dowd said.
Code.org, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase computer programming education in high schools, recently started a celebrity-backed online video campaign to generate support. The YouTube video produced by the group has almost 10 million views. It features testimonies from successful professional computer programmers Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Gabe Newell, as well as celebrities Chris Bosh and Will.i.am.
O’Dowd said he has seen the Code.org video and thinks having the celebrities on board with the movement will increase interest in coding and programming.
In addition to the online support Code.org has received, professors and administrators in the state and elsewhere are working to more closely involve high school students with programming.
Drexel computer science professor Jeffrey Popyack said until the movie “The Social Network” came out and Facebook became popular, many people never thought about computer science and software engineering.
“We’d be kidding ourselves if we did not recognize the importance of ‘The Social Network’ in turning the tide,” Popyack said. “Suddenly, not every techie had to fit the stereotype of Rick Moranis in ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.’”
Popyack said he recently received a grant called ReThink. The grant will support science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM, and computer science high school teachers and two-year college faculty in the Philadelphia area for a seven-week summer program so they can work with Drexel computer science faculty.
Popyack said it is important to make sure there are high school teachers who want to teach the classes and know the material before adding computer science classes to the curriculum. However, he said adding the classes in high school would increase the number of students interested in computer science once they came to college, which would be a positive thing.
“We don’t need a world full of Java programmers, but we need for people to be able to take control of their computers, rather than vice versa,” Popyack said.
O’Dowd said computer science classes would also help non-majors improve their problem-solving skills and develop analytical parts of their brain even if they do not intend to go in to computer related field.
Movements like the one by Code.org are the product of a greater level awareness about the lack of computer science course in high schools, Popyack said. There have been several approaches, and several organizations are working with businesses, politicians and educators to help introduce the new material.
Another organization promoting computer science classes at the high school level is the Computer Science Principles movement. The people behind it are creating a new AP Computer Science course, which will be able to reach a wider variety of high school students.
“Everyone understands the value of AP courses, so there will be a demand for that course which will be more focused than a demand for programming in general,” Popyack said.
Wayne Hartschuh, executive director for the Delaware Center for Educational Technology, said there are some high schools in Delaware that do have computer science classes, but there is not statewide program and no certification program for teachers.
“It could fall under business or mathematics, which gives it a little more flexibility in that respect, but it also doesn’t give it that statewide stamp of approval either,” Hartschuh said.
Demand dictates the courses high schools offer and there has been some web app courses developing, he said, but there is less demand for general computer programming language courses.
“The way schools teach computer programming has changed somewhat,” Hartschuh said. “Computer programming classes now focus a lot on web applications or developing applications for mobile hand held devices.”
However, due to the increased focus on STEM education there may be an increase in computer science courses being incorporated in to these programs, Hartschuh said.
Despite students having few computer programming classes in high school, Popyack said his computer science department sees a full range of experience when it comes to their new students.
“We survey our freshman at the beginning so I can tell you there are usually 15 to 25 percent who have no appreciable experience in programming and maybe 10 to 15 percent who are able to place out of one or more courses,” Popyack said.
He said he feels proudest when students who came to college with no experience start to excel.
Popyack said there is a high demand for people who can code and program, because every type of company has computer needs.
“Every business has tech needs these days, and so you might be valued for doing anything from troubleshooting hardware and software problems to designing databases to building killer apps,” he said.